Climate Refugees — Extreme Weather Displaced 157.8 Million People From 2008 to 2014

Does it seem to you that the weather is getting worse? Rainfall more intense, droughts drier, longer, more prolific, the strongest storms growing ever stronger? Well, in this case, seeming is all-too-real.

Four decades ago our climate was more placid. Global temperatures were about 0.5 C cooler than they are today. There was less available heat energy to pump up storms. The intensity of evaporation and precipitation was about 4 percent less than it is today and the pace of global warming due to an ongoing fossil fuel emission was slower. Our atmosphere has changed. It has become more dangerous. More capable of producing extreme and disrupting weather events.

Scale of displacement

Nearly 158 million people, or a number equivalent to just under half the population of the United States, were forced from their homes as a result of extreme weather over the past 7 years. It’s a number six times greater than those displaced by earthquakes, volcanoes or other geophysical causes. Individuals living on the Earth today are now at a 60 percent greater risk of being displaced — chiefly due to increases in extreme weather — than they were in 1975. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

And it’s for these reasons that you and I are more vulnerable. More likely to become a casualty of worsening weather. For according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Agency, an agency that tracks the number of displaced persons globally, you and I are 60 percent more likely now to be forced from our homes by a natural disaster than we were in 1975.

The numbers at this point are pretty concerning. On average, over the past 7 years, 26 million people have been displaced by natural disasters in a single year during that period. For 2014, the count was 19.3 million, 17.5 million of which came from extreme weather events — a factor directly related to human-caused climate change. In total, weather disasters resulted in 157.8 million people being forced to flee their homes during the entire period from 2008 to 2014. Extreme weather — not warfare, volcanoes, or tsunami — is now the primary reason human beings are displaced. Droughts, wildfires, floods, powerful hurricanes, superstorms. A litany of self inflicted violence whose impacts we are continuing to worsen.

Displacement by hazard type

From 2008 to 2014, storms and floods resulted in 84% of natural disaster caused displacements. In 2014, storms and floods generated 91% of the total displacement. Image source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The Impacts of Displacement Linger as Worsening Weather, Sea Level Rise Loom

Displacement caused by natural disasters is not an easy problem to fix. Anyone who suffered the loss of a home due to impacts related to Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina can attest to the fact that it often takes a long, long time to become re-established under a secure shelter. For this reason millions of people displaced by extreme weather disasters over the last few years have continued to live as a kind of climate refugee — forced to reside in tent villages or other temporary shelters. Reliant on government assistance because much of what they had, the storms destroyed. Often segregated from larger populations these groups suffer greater risk of falling into permanent poverty and contracting disease even as they are even more vulnerable to subsequent displacement from follow-on events.

As global warming intensifies and the risk of extreme weather events continues to increase, there is also an increasing risk that this expanding number of displaced persons will result in nation-destabilizing stresses in various regions of the world. Currently, the greatest number of displaced persons is centered in the high population density countries of Asia and the Caribbean. But as climate change begins to add another flood stress due to global sea level rise, it is likely that displacement will become ever more ubiquitous.

Even more concerning is the fact that the storms we see now are the early, easy outliers. The ‘small’ climate change weather demons that have already displaced more than 150 million people. Hansen’s Storms of our Grandchildren haven’t yet arrived in full force. And rates of sea level rise are just now starting to ramp up. Would that we had the wit, will, and wisdom to help prevent at least some of this unfolding tragedy. If we do not, there’s no fall back. We’re it.

Links:

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center

NOAA Temperature Graph

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Pumps up The Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

The Storms of My Grandchildren

 

 

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61 Comments

  1. Spike

     /  July 22, 2015

    As such disasters can lead to conflict I guess the actual climate related toll may be even higher – think Syria after the drought.

    I see nearly 300 000 can be added to this years toll from Pakistan’s current floods.

    If this had been caused by terrorism afflicting westerners, imagine the response!

    Reply
    • Good point, Spike.

      The US Navy categorizes climate change as a threat multiplier. In this case, nation destabilization due to weather disasters is also a refugee multiplier.

      Reply
    • Griffin

       /  July 22, 2015

      We have lost many more Americans to flash flooding than to terrorism this year. It just doesn’t get the same level of fear based attention. That is sad. The loss of innocent lives is tragic no matter the source, but I wish folks would recognize the severity of the threat that the weather poses.

      Reply
      • See Glacier National Park is burning post above. Look at the cover image — that’s climate change. No terrorism. Just one of thousands of fires that have burned during this summer. One of which is now burning through national treasure.

        Reply
    • Abel Adamski

       /  July 23, 2015

      Look to increased destabilisation, possibly even to collapsing States in India, Pakistan, African and North African States over the next few years, there are already ethnic, religious and class stresses and food and shelter issues. Add in Drought and extreme weather, floods, more of the Himalayan morain lakes bursting their walls.
      China will also face massive challenges as will many neighbouring states due to the number of huge dams and the reduction of river flows interspersed with extreme rainfall events. That would impact the global economy

      Reply
  2. Greg

     /  July 22, 2015

    Wit, Will, and Wisdom indeed. Don’t know how you do it, the research, the synthesis, the ability to draw on a huge memory, the discipline, the organization and the efficiency and all with flare (low carbon too!). Thank you again.

    When I look at the problem of human refugees I cringe most especially at the huge population of sea-level Bangladesh. Their situation is the most compelling nightmare from every angle you look at it. There just is nowhere to go and no country that will take them in in any significant way, especially their “neighbors”.

    Reply
    • Cheers, Greg. You rock and your kind words are an inspiration to keep doing what I’m doing. In all honesty, I’m scared. I don’t like losing people I care about. I don’t like seeing people suffer. I want a stop put to this. So I’m fighting for us, for me. It’s a fight I think we must win. And I can’t say how much it means to me that I’m not alone. That so many of you have stepped in to help out. I really, really appreciate that.

      But yeah, Bangladesh… It’s almost as if the nearby countries are turning that nation into what amounts to a climate change prison camp. That’s exactly the opposite direction we need to being going in. You isolate those populations. They become desperate and you end up with greater instances of violence, piracy, looting, and warfare. In the end, we should realize that we’re all in the same boat as the Bangladeshis, they’re just closer to the rising water line. Abandoning hope for them is abandoning hope for us.

      Reply
      • Greg

         /  July 22, 2015

        You have heart, and a community. Hang in there. Yes, it will be an emotional ride forward. And everyone who comes here believes we will ultimately win this fight. Nature is cruelly efficient and we, by fortune or fate and through no fault of ours, are born into the stronger simply by geography. Our pain is feeling responsible for alleviating the suffering of the weak and feeling partly responsible for their fates, and yes, for our losses too.

        Reply
  3. Thanks Robert, funny is that probably the largest number of refugees is not mentioned here: agricultural families that pack up and leave for the big city because their fields do not produce enough to feed them. Droughts, not storms and floods are the largest dislocators, followed by aquifer depletion, overpopulation (dividing the grounds so many times that the plots get too small), salination, soil exhaustion and deforestation (in random order). Some examples: Baluchistan farmers going to Karachi and Quetta (drought & conflict, estimate 5-10 million), Syrian farmers to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities before the civil war started for lack of rainfall (estimate 1,5 million). Barisal farmers leaving for Dhaka for salt infiltration (estimate 4-8 million), peoples from Lake Chad area leaving for Lagos, Kano and N’Djamena because of retreat of lake Chad due to faltering rains and overirrigation guestimate > 10 mio) , farmers and herders in Yemen leaving for Sanaa because of aquifer depletion (2 million?), people from mountain valleys in Afghanistan leaving for Kabul because of deforestation (2 million?), people in Northern Nigeria (5 million in last ten years) and Java (20 mio? since 2000 leaving for the suburbs of Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaja and other cities) partly leaving because carving up the plots due to too many siblings making them too small for sufficient production, people in Central America, North East Brazil leaving for Panama City, Managua, Salvador de Bahia, Fortaleza, Sao Paulo and the USA because of droughts (total >10 mio since 2010?), Chinese farmers from Yunnan to Inner Mongolia leave for Kunming, Beijing and the other metrocities (30 mio since 2000?), etc. etc, etc.. The numbers are largely my guestimates but the trends unmistakable while being filed under the chapter ”urbanisation”.

    Reply
    • IDMC does track what they call dry mass movements. I’m not certain where they draw the line on ‘voluntary’ migration vs ‘forced’ migration. There’s probably a bit of wag on the farm related numbers as a result, so good points.

      Reply
  4. Greg

     /  July 22, 2015

    RS – technical question, hopefully for all who come here and not a repeat. Photos/images. You and others have patiently shown that we can post photos that have a web address. However, often I have wished to post images that don’t have a web address such as my own or photos or images that are various pop-up/flash/other types that allow you to copy the image but not the address. Many here, likely, do not have a web address from which we can link images we have. Suggestions?

    Reply
  5. Colorado Bob

     /  July 22, 2015

    14 Dead, More Than 6,000 Hospitalized In Japan Heat

    At least 14 people are dead and 6,165 have been hospitalized across Japan during a heat wave that has gripped the country for several weeks, officials said.

    In some areas, temperatures have reached the triple digits, dangerously hot for hundreds of citizens in the country’s aging population.

    http://www.wunderground.com/news/japan-heat-wave

    Reply
  6. – Thanks for update on the massive human suffering now unfolding.

    – CBS put some of James Hansen’s 2015 words of SLR alarm on the air. Maybe more of the populace will take CC more seriously.

    (…)

    HANSEN: If we get sea level rise of several meters, all costal cities become dysfunctional.

    HANSEN: As the atmosphere gets warmer and holds more water vapor, that’s going to drive stronger thunderstorms, stronger hurricanes, stronger tornadoes because they all get their energy from the water vapor.

    AXELROD: Nearly a decade ago, Hansen told 60 Minutes we had ten years to get a handle on global warming.

    HANSEN: It will be a situation that is out of our control.

    AXELROD: We would reach a tipping point.

    HANSEN [TUESDAY]: We’re essentially at the edge of that. That’s why this year is a critical year.

    Reply
  7. – 0722 PNW GHG WEATHER FURNACE MEANS MORE FIRES URBAN AND WILD

    – But are our responders even close to being adequately prepared — with so much denial and underplaying of climate dangers by much of civil government, I doubt it.
    – We also have many of our fellow citizens who insist on moving (made possible with a FF umbilical) into the wildlands and forests. It’s another form of unsustainable wildland intrusion and imperialism, I would think.

    “fires in places where we’ve never seen fires before,”

    In Drier Washington State, Fire Chiefs Say Wildfires Could Scorch Any City

    In a field on the outskirts of Spokane, Wash., Peter Goldmark points across to a charred, rocky hillside where the Little Spokane fire burned dangerously close to the city limits earlier this month.

    He says the wildfire was relatively small but had huge potential for destruction. Like many Western cities, greater Spokane has been home to rapid growth in recent years, and the forests surrounding the footprint of the Little Spokane blaze are cluttered with subdivisions, shopping centers and golf courses.

    There’s precedent for this new type of wildfire in other, typically drier Western states. In recent years, wildfires wiped out whole neighborhoods in Colorado Springs and San Diego County in just hours. Talk to a lot of fire chiefs here, and they’ll tell you that this may be the future for Washington too.

    “Our climate is getting closer to Southern California,” says John Sinclair, chief of Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue

    On the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, it’s Sinclair’s job to suppress fires across a 270-square-mile jurisdiction. This includes several small cities and scores of recently built subdivisions in dense pine and Douglas fir forests.

    “We’re seeing significant amounts of fires in places where we’ve never seen fires before,” Sinclair says.

    Reply
  8. Watch Smoke From Wildfires in Alaska and Canada Circle the World
    Unusually large wildfires can cause problems for everybody.

    Smoke from wildfires in Alaska and Canada circling the globe between July 1 and July 15, 2015. (Photo: Jesse Allen/Colin Seftor)

    Reply
  9. – The US Airnow has NA fire and smoke plume mapping resource. The vertical slider on the right has options for overlays.

    http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=topics.smoke_wildfires

    Reply
  10. Colorado Bob

     /  July 22, 2015

    The godfather of global warming’s frightening prediction is getting the cold shoulder

    His conclusions are frightening, and in some ways compelling — but they are not widely shared in the climate science community.

    Link

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  July 22, 2015

      Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning

      In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.

      The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate.

      Link

      Reply
      • I’m waiting for the report text to go live before posting on this. I’ve already go the prelim blog written, but I want to see the nuts and bolts first.

        Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  July 22, 2015

        Me too, but I think he’s right. see my comment below/

        Reply
  11. wili

     /  July 22, 2015

    Skip-rope song for our increasingly dessicated (where not inundated) future:

    “No water in the water fountain”

    “Nothing feels like dying like the drying of my skin and lawn
    Why do we just sit here while they watch us wither til we’re gone?…

    Greasy man come and dig my well
    Life without your water is a burning hell

    Serve me up with your home-grown rice
    Anything make me shit nice…

    No water in the water fountain…

    We’re gonna get the water from your house
    We’re gonna get the water from your house
    We’re gonna get the water from your house”

    Reply
  12. Colorado Bob

     /  July 22, 2015

    Even if Hansen et al is flawed , it’s an important work, because it points to what Earth’s record shows. Change in the system is very linear, until it’s not

    I watched ” Humanity from Space ” on PBS last night. Nothing in the record compares to what we have done in just 265 years. And the pace of our footprint is gaining speed.

    “We are the asteroid”.

    That’s what this paper is saying.

    Reply
    • Oh, it’s absolutely important. That’s why I want to get into the guts of it first so I can cast some light on it related to other recent science. Hansen is our friend. Our good friend.

      Reply
      • danabanana

         /  July 23, 2015

        Hansen is The Hero of our times. In 1988 facing congress and warning us all. Then arrested multiple times as well for protesting. Wrote the most accurate account of what is to come. Jesus eat your heart out.

        Reply
    • rustj2015

       /  July 23, 2015

      Yea. And there’s a footfall not our own — larger than human beans’ — that’s coming closer as our pace quickens toward it.

      Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  July 22, 2015

    The 2016 Republican field this year will not be riding in a “clown car” , they have ordered the world’s longest “clown stretch limousine”.

    It’s so long, it can barely make turns.

    Reply
  14. A friend suggested this analogy for climate change:

    “Have you ever done titrations in chemistry class (with a sensitive dye to indicate the endpoint)?? At first, as a reactant is added drop by drop, the color shift is fleeting and confined to the area where the drips are concentrated. As the endpoint is neared, the colored impact sites are larger and last longer, until when the endpoint is reached and the color of the entire solution changes just within the period, in which a few drops are added. Anyone predicting the future of the system (without considering chaos) would conclude that additions will never result in change, let alone predict when and how it might happen.”

    Reply
  15. Colorado Bob

     /  July 22, 2015

    A just went on the NOLA site about this (SLR).

    I hope they all drown .

    Reply
    • You get a lot of deniers there, Bob?

      Reply
      • Colorado Bob

         /  July 22, 2015

        This is getting harder everyday. I’m as best up as any one here. Years ago, I when after these bozos , with Hammer and thongs.

        Now I lay down, like a dog.

        Reply
        • People are getting nervous. Just wait until 2017, it’s going to be a complete circus.

          Not your circus, not your monkeys.

      • rustj2015

         /  July 23, 2015

        Ah, The Circus of Dr. Lao!

        Reply
  16. Ryan in New England

     /  July 22, 2015

    Great post, Robert! Many people are under the impression that in developed countries we are insulated from, and can recover from, extreme weather. This is just an illusion. For those who aren’t wealthy (which is most) when a home is lost it is the beginning of a long struggle. Insurance companies try like hell to deny claims after large events, think Sandy and those still without a home. 60 Minutes did a good report on the many victims whose legitimate claims were rejected, leaving them without any means of rebuilding or recovering. And don’t look to the government to help. Not here in the US. Republicans are determined to cut all government spending that isn’t for military purposes. Here in Ct we got a taste of the future in 2011/2012. In 2011 we were devastated by hurricane/tropical storm Irene. People who had started to rebuild were knocked back down one year later when Sandy rolled through. Shoreline communities were wiped out two years in a row. And it wasn’t just the shoreline that was affected. In 13 months our state had three storms that caused widespread disruption and mass power outages. Eventually extreme weather will become so frequent we will not have enough time to rebuild. We will be in a constant state of rebuilding and attempting to recover, which will basically be survival mode.

    Reply
    • Abel Adamski

       /  July 23, 2015

      That is the ridiculous part.
      The Deniers are all about the fear of losing money or higher taxes or an infringement on their rights or liberties, they seem incapable of comprehending the consequences will be an infinitely greater cost and infringement on their rights and liberties, possibly even their lives

      Reply
  17. climatehawk1

     /  July 23, 2015

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  18. Spike

     /  July 23, 2015

    Great article on SLR and Florida here, relevant o refugees in future.

    “Sooner or later, this city, as you see it right now, won’t be like this,” says Henry Briceño, a water-quality researcher at Florida International University. “Miami and the whole of South Florida is not going to be like this any more. So we have to develop a way to plan and supply services in a changing scenario, and that’s not easy. And then, sooner or later, we’ll have to move. Most of the population will have to move.”

    Imagine a prohibition on fossil fuels, effective tomorrow. Every gas-guzzler off the road; every coal plant shuttered; every source of greenhouse-gas emissions brought under control.

    Even then, by some estimates, the atmosphere would experience residual warming for another 30 years. That, in turn, would continue to heat the oceans for about another century. The warming ocean would melt the ice-packs in Greenland and Antarctica. And, finally, those melting masses of ice would raise the sea level.

    “We’ve missed the boat, so to speak, on stopping serious warming in a way so we can turn it around real quick,” says Harold Wanless, chair of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “That’s gone, we’ve warmed the ocean too much. So we’re in for it now.”

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/come-hell-or-high-water-the-disaster-scenario-that-is-south-florida/article25552300/

    Reply
  19. Abel Adamski

     /  July 23, 2015

    Looking towards Central Asia.
    A good article about water and drought
    http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/interview-climate-change-in-central-asia/

    Reply
  20. Spike

     /  July 23, 2015

    Can add a few hundred thousand more to this years total in China where up to 16 inches of rain over a few days are reported.

    http://en.apa.az/xeber_six_dead_as_rainstorms_wreak_havoc_in_ch_230067.html

    Reply
  1. Climate Change Changes Everything — Massive Capital Flight From Fossil Fuels Now Under Way | robertscribbler
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  3. “Everything I Dreamed of is Gone” — How Climate Change is Spurring a Global Refugee Crisis to Rapidly Worsen | robertscribbler
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